‘People Power’ down memory lane

By Herbert Vego

YESTERDAY marked the first day of the 36th anniversary of People Power Revolution on February 22 to 25, 1986. Within those four days, over a million Filipinos took to Epifanio delos Santos Avenue (EDSA) to overthrow the 20-year regime of President Ferdinand Marcos.

The precipitating events leading to that historic finale had been gradual, starting from Marcos’ declaration of martial law in 1972 to the assassination of opposition leader Senator Benigno Aquino in 1983, the fraudulent snap election on February 7, 1986 where Marcos was declared the winner against Cory Aquino, and the murder of former Antique governor Evelio Javier four days later on  Feb. 11.

The government has since then celebrated the EDSA bloodless uprising, unfortunately each time with lesser fervor, as shown by the fact that President Duterte has never attended its anniversary celebrations. It remains to be seen whether, in his last year in office, he would grace the 36th anniversary at the EDSA People Power monument in Quezon City on Friday, Feb. 25.

Similar programs are expected to be organized by local government units. Iloilo Governor Arthur Defensor Jr., for instance, has issued Executive Order No. 136 mandating the celebration of the revolution that toppled the almost-21-year dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos.

God forbid that a “wrong” president be elected on May 9 this year. It could lead to “no more” commemoration in the next year six years.

Most Filipinos today were either children or unborn yet during the EDSA uprising 36 years ago when the Philippine population was only 55 million or half of the estimated 110 million today.

As the 36-year-old editor-in-chief of an Iloilo City-based tabloid in 1986, I had acquired the habit of bringing a transistor radio whenever I went out of the office, as I did while walking to the nearest coffee shop on that Saturday afternoon of Feb. 22, 1986.

The radio blared a flash report about Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile, Philippine Constabulary (PC) chief Gen. Fidel Ramos and their followers converging at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City with full media coverage.  The two announced that they had withdrawn their support for President Marcos.

The word from Malacañang, on the other hand, revealed Enrile’s failed coup attempt through a troop movement to the back of the Palace along the Pasig River

For four days, the eyes of the world focused on the swelling of people from all walks of life providing a mantle of protection on the mutineers against the incoming battle tanks.

The late Jaime Cardinal Sin was largely instrumental in convincing radio and TV audiences to converge along the EDSA stretch on both sides of Camp Aguinaldo.

Most elements in the military either surrendered to Gen. Ramos or merely stood down in tacit support of the EDSA “revolutionaries,” forcing the Marcos family to fly to Hawaii at near-midnight of February 25, 1986.

On the morning of that day, Corazon Aquino took her oath of office as revolutionary President at Club Filipino in San Juan City before the then Associate Justice Claudio Teehankee, in effect invalidating the fraudulent win of Marcos in the February 7, 1986 snap election.

One of the urgent acts of Pres. Cory was to appoint officers-in-charge (OICs) of cities, municipalities, and provinces. That was how a city prosecutor, Rodrigo Duterte, morphed into politics as OIC-vice mayor of Davao City – an “accommodation” to his mother Soledad who had campaigned hard for Cory against Marcos.

If only in recognition of that turning point in his life, shouldn’t President Duterte have done more for the annual celebration of EDSA Revolution than his predecessors?

Ironically, even if he were willing to, it would no longer hide his admiration for the toppled dictator Marcos, whom he turned “hero” by allowing interment of his remains at the Libingan ng mga Bayani in November 2016.

We who have gone through Marcos’ martial law years may see bits and pieces of Marcos in Duterte to the chagrin of the present generation influenced by “trolls” in social media.

Because of the polarization of public perception, however, it would be unlikely for another onslaught at EDSA this week – not until the people who run out of patience rage over the tendency of Duterte to gloss over “unforgivable” circumstances, such as the intrusion of Chinese military and fishing vessels within our exclusive economic zone at the West Philippine Sea; and obvious cases of graft and corruption topped by multi-billion pesos worth of overpriced government contracts awarded to the Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corporation.

Unlike during Marcos’ time when strong opposition stalwarts from Pusyon Bisaya and Bicol Saro scared the administration in privilege speeches at the Batasang Pambansa, most of today’s senators and congressmen are “tamed,” incapable of performing check-and-balance.

Vice President Leni Robredo, in her EDSA anniversary statement, reminds us that “the promise of EDSA has not yet been completely fulfilled. Our democracy, ever fragile, is still under constant threat.”

If she is alluding to efforts by some people to revise history, we know who they are.